How to increase motivation psychology

How to Increase Self-Motivation | Psychology Today

The present article reviews effective self-motivation techniques, based on findings cited in a paper by Fishbach, published in the December 2021 issue of Motivation Science.

Self-motivation means being driven by a personal desire to set valued goals and to focus on, commit to, and move toward these goals despite obstacles. Self-motivation is necessary for many situations, especially when what we desire immediately (e.g., eating pizza) is not what we should do (e.g., eating healthy). For instance, we motivate ourselves to do chores, engage in self-care, and better ourselves (e.g., become more conscientious).

But how do you motivate yourself, exactly? Below, I review effective motivational strategies related to four elements of motivation: goal setting, goal striving, goal juggling, and leveraging social support. See Table 1.

Source: Arash Emamzadeh (adapted from Fishbach et al., 2021)

Goal Setting

We begin with strategies for successful goal setting.

  1. Set a goal, not a means to a goal: If goal pursuit does not excite you, you are probably pursuing a means to a goal (e.g., finding a parking spot in a crowded area), not the goal (e.g., buying a special gift for a loved one). So, keep in mind your ultimate destination.
  2. Set SMART goals: Smart stands for specific, measurable, attainable (i.e. neither too easy nor too difficult), relevant, and time-bound. Instead of saying, “I want to lose weight,” specify how many pounds and in how many months; and how you plan to accomplish your goal. Also, goals should be self-set, not imposed; otherwise, you might rebel against them.
  3. Set incentives: Incentives are like “mini-goals” and increase motivation. However, they sometimes undermine the original goal (e.g., you study just for the incentive of eating chocolate). Furthermore, uncertain incentives (e. g., 20 or 40 minutes to play video games, randomly chosen) are potentially more motivating than certain ones (always 30 minutes).
  4. Use intrinsic motivation: To motivate yourself, pursue intrinsically motivating goals—i.e. inherently beneficial and enjoyable activities (e.g., a job you love; an exercise you enjoy) and not a means to another goal (e.g., to lose weight, you jog, but you hate jogging).

Sustaining Motivation

To sustain motivation, monitor your progress.

  1. Dynamics of goal motivation: To motivate yourself, reflect on your achievements (e.g., good grades; work success). Why? Because they demonstrate commitment to your goal, thus promoting consistency. Alternatively, reflect on things you have not accomplished yet. Why? Because they indicate a lack of progress (e.g., not having completed any extra-credit assignments), thus enhancing motivation to make progress.
  2. The middle problem: Motivation is usually high initially and toward the end, but not in the middle. The solution? Keep the middles very short (e.g., instead of monthly goals, set weekly goals).
  3. Learning from negative feedback: People are less likely to learn from negative than positive feedback, perhaps because they take it too personally. The solution? To protect your ego, focus on the lessons learned; sharing these lessons with others, in the form of giving advice, may also protect your ego. Additional techniques include developing a growth mindset, intentionally making minor mistakes (to practice learning from errors), and learning from others’ failures.

Goal Juggling

Rarely do we pursue a single goal, so we must learn to juggle goals.

  1. Complementing goals: To increase goal commitment, select multiple means serving a single goal (e.g., eating healthy and dancing both help you lose weight; Figure 1B). To attain more goals, use means serving multiple goals (e.g., dancing for both weight loss and increased flexibility; Figure 1C). If you lose motivation, go back to performing activities that each serve mainly one goal.
  2. Compromising vs. prioritizing: To resolve goal conflicts, we prioritize (choose A over B) or compromise (choose the middle ground or a third goal C). Framing an activity as progress encourages compromise but framing it as commitment encourages prioritization (see Point 1 in the section on sustaining motivation). So, be careful how you frame activities.
  3. Self-control: Successful self-control requires first identifying a conflict. This necessitates examining behavioral patterns. For example, eating two slices of cake in one sitting is not a problem unless done regularly. Second, it requires us to exercise self-control. How? One, by changing the environment (e.g., filling the fridge with healthy food). Two, by changing our perception of a goal’s value (e.g., “I will feel proud of myself if I control my weight”) and reducing the value of the temptation (e. g., “I will feel guilty if I overeat” or “Looking at it closely, this doesn’t look appetizing”).
  4. Patience: Goal conflicts often involve having to choose between something good soon and something great later (e.g., a yearly vacation vs. buying a house in five years). How to motivate yourself to remain patient? Use distractors, remind yourself of the value of your goal, and trust the process (i.e. “good things happen to those who wait”).

Source: Arash Emamzadeh (adapted from Kruglanski et al. 2002)

Social Support

Social support can increase motivation.

  1. Leverage social support: The mere presence of people increases motivation, magnifying what you do. Additionally, others may set expectations for performance—though in rare cases, too high of an expectation, which lowers motivation—provide resources, join you (e.g., study groups), and serve as role models.
  2. Pursuing group goals: When pursuing goals as a group (e. g., be it a husband and wife, a class, or a community), in order to make sure all members are doing their fair share (i.e. to prevent free-riding and social loafing), make contributions public, increase members’ identification with the group, and inspire group members with your contributions. In addition, remember that in many groups, as far as resources are concerned, the goal is not an equal partnership but maximizing benefits for the group as a unit. Naturally, this can be motivating only if the resources you expect to obtain as a group justifies ignoring your personal desires or ambitions (e.g., relocating because of your spouse’s financially rewarding career).

Low on Motivation? 7 Psychological Hacks to Get Going

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Studies show that the 'average' optimal time for a work-break split entails working for 52 minutes and breaking for 17.

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Even the most passionate and motivated among us have off days. We wake up feeling detached from work, or groggy, frustrated or depressed, and we can't get into the right mindset to be productive. We might be able to go through the motions of work, but we aren't operating at peak efficiency, nor are we enjoying what we're doing.


Related: 5 Productivity Truth Bombs From Millennial Powerhouses

Is this you? Thankfully, even on your worst days, there are some psychological tricks you can use to hack your mind to become more motivated:

1. Visualize your long-term goals.

Research from the University of Virginia suggests that visualizing your potential future is highly motivating, even if that future is distant. Though we tend to perform our best and achieve the best outcomes when we optimize our work and focus for long-term performance, our minds are wired for short-term focus and goals. So, instead of zooming in on one task or project, think about your long-term goals, and work backward to visualize how these small steps will lead to that eventuality. Visualizing should super-charge your focus.

Long-term thinking is what Jeff Bezos used to make Amazon the tech powerhouse it is today. Since 1997, his manifesto has been "It's all about the long term," a kind of proactive warning to shareholders that the company is willing to sacrifice short-term revenue if that means higher long-term gains.

2. At least start your task.

One of the hardest parts of any task, especially a challenging one, is actually getting started. Once you're in the middle of something, it's much easier to keep that momentum going. To overcome this initial hurdle, commit yourself to at least starting your task;you can always tell yourself that you can abandon it after five good minutes of actual work.

By the time those five minutes are up, you might already be so into the project that you'll naturally want to carry that momentum forward. So, start! The sooner you do, the sooner you'll achieve that flow. This charge may seem intimidating or difficult if the task is beyond your usual scope, but in the words of former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, "I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that's how you grow. When there's that moment of 'Wow, I'm not really sure I can do this,' and you push through those moments, that's when you have a breakthrough."

Related: 7 Little Habits That Are Killing Your Productivity

3. Set a timer.

You can also motivate yourself by setting a timer,forcing yourself to work for a fixed amount of time and putting a break on the schedule for the near future. This simultaneously puts a limit on how much effort you'll need to expend and gives you something to look forward to -- a break.

Studies show that the "average" optimal time for this work-break split entails working for 52 minutes and breaking for 17, but you'll likely need some adjustments to make the pattern work for you. For example, Tony Schwartz (president of the Energy Project) takes a break every 90 minutes, since he says his alertness tends to drop off after those 90 minutes are up.

4. Tell someone what you plan to do.

Social pressure can influence your personal motivation fairly strongly. If you have a big project to do, or a major goal for the day, tell someone close to you (such as a friend, family member or even a colleague) what you intend to accomplish. Knowing you'll need to eventually report back to that person, you'll feel extra pressure to do what you said you were going to.

If you want even more pressure, consider broadcasting your goal to a whole group of people, such as the entire office. Ray Wu, cofounder of Weilos, used that online weight-loss community's platform to measure this effect. The result: Participants who actively shared their goals and progress ended up losing 1.2 pounds per week, compared to just 0.27 pounds per week among dieters not using the platform.

5. Change your "self-talk."

A comprehensive review of 47 different studies reported in the Journal of Sports Exercise Psychology confirmed the effects of positive and negative "self-talk" -- that running internal dialogue most of us experience throughout the day. Essentially, positive self-talk leads to higher motivation, better self-esteem and an elevated mood, while negative self-talk leads to the opposite.

If you find yourself saying or thinking things like "This is too much," or "I'm stressed out of my mind," try rephrasing those comments to things like, "This is an exciting challenge," or "I'm going to feel great when I'm done with this." Sometimes, a simple mental change is all it takes to radically transform your perspective.

6. Keep a task list.

Start keeping a list of tasks to do, and write down everything -- even small, minutes-long tasks throughout your day. Whenever you get something done, cross it off the list or put a check mark next to it. This will help you stay organized but, more importantly, will give you a boost of motivation every time you cross something off.

In the words of April Underwood, vice president of product at Slack, "Have a clear system for to-dos: whether it's "Getting Things Done' or the "Checklist Manifesto,' just have a system and stick to it." Continued Underwood: "I have a very specific method I use in Slack and in email that works for me, and knowing I have that system keeps me from feeling overwhelmed even when I'm behind or the to-dos pile up. "

By keeping a task list, you too will be able to tangibly mark your progress, and you'll feel better about what you've already achieved. You'll also get to visualize your progress over time, which can help you keep going when you hit a wall.

7. Establish consequences.

Though reward-based systems often work better for teaching people new things, our instinct to avert loss motivates us to accomplish a goal when there are consequences for not accomplishing it. For example, in one experiment, teachers were split into two groups: one group was offered a $4,000 bonus if their students' grades improved, and another group was actually given the $4,000, along with the threat that they would have to return the money if grades didn't improve. Those consequences led the latter group to perform better over the semester.

So, if you want to get more things done, establish your own consequences for not getting them done.

If you find yourself chronically low on motivation and this happens relatively frequently -- say, more than once or twice a week -- consider this a sign of a bigger problem in your daily work life. You might be dealing with too much stress (without an outlet to relieve it), or you might be heading toward burnout.

Related: Optimize Your Daily Schedule for Maximum Productivity -- Here's How

If that's the case, these suggested short-term hacks won't be enough to help you recover. You'll need to invest significant resources into changing your environment and your lifestyle to something more manageable, longer-term.

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How to increase motivation and force yourself to act?

How to increase motivation? To answer this question, we propose to use seven effective ways. Act, and the result will not be long in coming!

We all want to optimize our time and do what we love. Every day we strive to get closer to achieving our goals and to live a happy, successful life. However, just waiting for inspiration to start moving forward is not enough. You must act, and not assume that everything will happen somehow by itself. Only one action can bring results, even small ones, and give you a new experience. The only question is how to force yourself to act, and how to find motivation? nine0005

1. Want to increase your motivation? Then learn to simplify!

Approach your life planning from a creative point of view. Give up those activities that you do not like and take up too much time and energy. It's very hard to find motivation when your mind is full of thoughts about the tasks you need to complete. Therefore, simplify. One way to simplify is to start combining different activities. Think about which ones you can reduce to one action. Thus, you will have more time, as well as a feeling of satisfaction, which in turn increases motivation. nine0005

2. Set achievable goals

Remember that we should always set ourselves specific goals that can be achieved within a very realistic time frame. This well helps the brain to focus only on those things that are achievable. When we make visible progress towards our goals, we become much happier, and as a result, we have the motivation to move on.

3. Develop New Habits

Sometimes the smallest changes in life bring the biggest results. When you start hitting the gym, recording videos, or practicing singing, consistency and repetition are the key to doing these things. If you can't seem to finish a project, just start doing some small things every day, even if it only takes you five minutes. Remember that small actions can lead to big results. nine0005

4. Work with your subconscious

The human brain is a fantastic problem-solving tool. If you have questions that you are looking for answers to, take a few minutes before bed to rethink everything. Imagine what the solution might be. Visualize goals and ways to achieve them. After sleep, write down everything that comes to mind and start acting.

5. Focus on your surroundings.

The people you spend time with influence and change your life in one way or another. Surround yourself with people who support and motivate you. We can always choose who we spend the day with and what we spend our time on. You can always decide for yourself: stay with a person who sucks energy out of you and morally puts pressure on your personality, or stay with a person who inspires you to work and is happy with your success. nine0005

6. Visualize your ideal future

If you're not motivated, try focusing on a goal that leads to what you want to achieve in the future. A great way to increase motivation is to think more about your ideal future. Where would you like to be in 5 years? What is your main goal? What needs to happen for you to be very satisfied with your accomplishments?


Do not be afraid to act

Learn to face fear. We all have a lot to do and sometimes it's easy to feel completely overwhelmed with work. However, you can always start small and work your way up to something big. Gradually, step by step. The main thing is not to sit idly by. nine0005


How to increase motivation: 7 ways to increase self-motivation

Everything great comes from small things. Any fire is initially a spark. Any project is initially an idea. And only the ambitions, desire and self-motivation of a person determine the speed of implementation of the plan. nine0005

The path to success is thorny, but it is the zeal for the goal that can become a faithful assistant in overcoming obstacles. This is what personal motivation is. And what you will have depends on its quality.

Stop your thoughts for a moment. Now go over your own goals in your head. How important are they to you and how much are you devoted to them? Is there anything that can make you disown them? It is in the case when there are no doubts about the implementation of the plan and there is a burning will to win that you can do everything. nine0005

How to increase motivation if you want to but can't?

But how can one ignite that very spark in oneself that is able to get off the ground, fill the brain with ideas, and fill oneself with ambitions and aspirations? How to maintain the inner flame of inspiration? To do this, you need to go through the following steps that can grow in yourself the will to win in any endeavors and a powerful desire to achieve the goal. They are only recommendations, but it is these steps that will help increase the personal level of motivation for action, as well as increase the effectiveness of a person’s motivation in life in general. nine0005

Step one: Destroy escape routes

Any army will fight much harder when it has nowhere to retreat. The Chinese thinker Sun Tzu also wrote about this in the famous treatise “The Art of War”. If a warrior has only one choice - win or die, what do you think he will choose? Not weak personal motivation, agree? This can be applied to everyday life as well.

“Burning the bridges”, you give the subconscious part of the mind the installation – “retreat is impossible, win!”. nine0005

Do you think that such a risky step is too categorical for the average person? You're right! Therefore, this person continues to be “average”.

Step two: Everything around should increase the level of motivation

Suppose you set a goal - to lose an extra ten kilograms. Then it would be reasonable to put wallpaper on the laptop desktop with the inscription “my weight is X kilograms” (where X is the optimal weight for you), and provide all prominent places in the apartment with similar thematic “reminders” about the desired body weight. nine0005

Sounds funny, but this is one self-motivation technique that works! A regular reminder of the goal will keep the level of determination and inspiration in the right tone.

Who among us in such a situation has not at least once “forgotten” about limitations?

Third step: Positive environment

Nothing will help increase the effectiveness of motivation like the people who support you. It is the environment that inspires a person and gives him positive emotions, which is the right rear and a favorable environment on the way to achieving the goal. It is necessary to be in circles as close as possible to your dream of people. nine0005

If you want to become a successful businessman - communicate with entrepreneurs, if you want to lose weight - communicate with those who have already achieved this. Becoming a supermodel without socializing in “modeling circles” is also unlikely.

Step Four: Feeding Motivating Information

How to increase motivation without resorting to motivational books or videos? Very difficult. After all, constantly viewing inspiring materials is one of the best and most powerful ways of self-motivation. It doesn't matter how you do it - read articles or watch themed films, it will charge you with the necessary energy to achieve the intended result. Surprisingly, sometimes a person can be motivated to do great things by completely unusual things, like a children's cartoon or a chapter from a science book. Conclusion: Learn more. nine0005

Step five: positive emotions

Emotions need to be monitored. Although it is difficult at first, you will adapt with time. Any negativity in life, shown even to your friend, even to the news on TV, is an additional brake on your own development. How can you be successful while radiating negativity? Emotions have the ability to accumulate, and negative emotions can also roll into a giant ball of unsolvable problems. The more you wind yourself up, the faster you will bring yourself to stress. Learn to see the positive where there seems to be none. nine0005

Step six: visual image

How to increase motivation? Keep in mind the image of a successful self that has already achieved what you want! Remember that self-motivation of a person is a huge force. You can start its work to its fullest with the help of the right images in your head. Every time you pass by a mirror, learn to see yourself in it as having already achieved your goal.

Want to lose weight? “Watch” yourself thin! Do you want to become rich? “See” yourself in an expensive suit! Are you afraid to communicate with people? Feel like the star of the evening and "live" these emotions. nine0005

Don't believe it works? Start practicing right now!

The Seventh Step: NLP

Many have heard of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. This is a set of techniques that allow you to associate positive emotions with a goal. Just do what inspires you and gives you joy, while visualizing yourself in a state where you have already achieved everything. Turn on the music that can energize you, and devote 15-20 minutes to creating the image of a new you, the one you aspire to. Make it as bright, lively, memorable, “tasty” as possible. nine0005

By the way, and “delicious” images.

You are daily influenced by marketers who impose your appetite at the sight of a beautiful picture of a burger with fresh lettuce and juicy steak, the desire to change a car is a banner advertising a new car brand. So why not motivate yourself on what is valuable for you, and not for large corporations?

Step 8: Get Started

Once you've got the idea, don't be self-deprecating, tormenting yourself with questions like “What if?”, “How?”, “Can I” and the like. Do not sit down to analyze and come up with plans to take over the world. In other words, don't make long-term plans. The main thing in the realization of any goal is to move forward. So start acting immediately, as soon as you come to the point that you would like it, and feel a pleasant “tickle” inside. Don't put off losing weight until Monday, but changing jobs for the next year. Right now, go to the refrigerator and get rid of all harmful products, go with a conversation to your superiors. nine0005

Follow the 72-hour rule: during this time, direct all your energy not into analysis, but into action.

Your self-motivation is only in your hands

These ways to increase motivation and achieve your goal work absolutely exactly. But something will come in handy for you personally, you will forget about something after a while. It's not scary. The main thing to remember is one thing: if there is real zeal and the desired goal is really yours, corresponding to your values, then everything will definitely work out! Personal motivation, like fuel for a rocket, drives a person to achieve what he has in mind.

Learn more